Monday, February 17, 2014

Politics, not parties are what matter most

We like to pick sides. There is a social expectation in our country that everyone must somehow be defined. These definitions are often expressed as labels that we wear or display proudly to show who we are, or think we are, and to attract others who would also categorize themselves in a similar way. Examples of such labels are Christian, Atheist, Athletic, Doctor, Intellectual, American, Survivor, 26.2, Democrat, and Republican. It seems to make us feel important to be part of a group or perhaps it gives us a sense of security that we’re not alone. A certain aurora is seemingly created, a protective shield such that when our minds wander and we occasionally doubt what we believe, whether what we do is worth it, or if we should continue to go on, we have our group to rely on.

However, group membership, whether formal or informal, is a double-edged sword. Rather than our own ideas and beliefs defining us, it becomes easier to fall into the groupthink trap. This is further compounded when our group belief feels like a zero sum game. In other words, if we don't agree with the group that we identify with on a particular point, it follows that we must therefore support the other group, one that we would never otherwise support. Thus a paradox ensues, leaving us feeling like we must betray all of our other beliefs by supporting the "other" group or that we must accept one position we actually disagree with "for the greater good". While such an internal struggle may occur when we consider our religious beliefs, or lack of belief, there is a complete spectrum of traditions both for the religious and the non-believer. However, in American politics, most people, and society as a whole, seem to expect you to define yourself as either a Democrat or a Republican.

A vast majority of elections in our country are won by a member of one of these parties (of course excepting races set as non-partisan from the onset). The two parties have assembled vast amounts of wealth and power, allowing them to entirely crush most third party candidates. When a third party or independent candidates manages to sneak into Congress, they typically pick a side to caucus with once they are in office anyway. In fact, since the last Congressional expansion, when the Senate reached its current 100 members in 1961, only 0.21% or 30 of 14,410 seats (vacancies excluded) have not been filled by Republicans or Democrats. Regardless of how we got there, the reality is we have succumbed to the win-lose proposition of fitting ourselves into one of two parties.

While each of us often finds that one party or another more closely matches our views, we then find ourselves in a position to accept and usually, even if indirectly, support views contrary to ours. Ultimately, this leads most Americans to view issues through the scope of their party rather than giving each issue the independent examination it deserves and when the world is examined through this lens, decision-making is always skewed.

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